The Explosive Republican-Obama Battleground

The latest Democracy Corps survey of the Republican House battleground seats confirms that 2012 will be an explosive year. These Republicans swept into Washington on the tide of a change wave but are now facing what could be a change election with an even higher wave, and these seats are anything but secure. The difference from the last three elections is that this wave seems to be threatening everything in its path.

These battleground districts went for Obama by a 52 to 47 percent margin and for the incumbent Republican House members in 2010 by 54 to 43 percent.  So, this is a real battleground and these districts represent a pretty good measure of the middle of the country, which has swung each election.

This is obviously not the best moment to judge the Democrats’ eventual fortunes. Fewer voters now identify themselves as Democrats and the ones who do are less enthusiastic about the president.  Obama’s overall approval rating is down 7 points and he is losing independents in these districts.  We do not yet know the public’s reaction to the president’s latest initiatives, but there is good reason to believe they can help him and improve the Democrats’ position here.

Whatever else is happening on the Democratic side, the bigger story is the growing vulnerability of the incumbent House Republicans. The mood of the country is deeply pessimistic and voter anger encompasses the Republicans as well, particularly the new House members. This survey in these mostly Obama-2008 districts does not ask generic questions but asks about the incumbent members by name. Consider the following:

  • Negative personal feelings about the incumbent members have jumped 10 points in their districts since March; disapproval of how he or she is handling the job has jumped 7 points.
  • The percent saying they “can’t re-elect” is up 4 points to 49 percent – compared to just 40 percent who say they “will re-elect because the incumbent is doing a good job and addressing issues important to voters.” This is substantially worse than the position of Democratic incumbents two years ago.
  • Among independents, disapproval of incumbent Republican House members jumped 12 points, and a large majority of independents (54 to 37 percent) say they “can’t vote to re-elect” the incumbent.
  • There has been a 9-point rise in the number saying the incumbent will not work with both parties to get things done; a 6-point rise in the number saying their representative does not fight for people in the district.
  • While the incumbent Republicans are at 50 percent in the named ballot, a slight improvement since March, the gains were produced almost entirely by consolidation of Republicans. They did not improve their vote position with independents.
  • Attacks on the Republicans in this balanced survey have a dramatic impact on the position of these incumbents. After the attacks and messages—with Medicare figuring centrally—the race for Congress is dead even at 45 to 45 percent. One in ten voters shifts away from these vulnerable incumbents.

In this potentially explosive election year, most of these incumbents are exposed and could well be the victims of voter anger. None of us has seen a developing election year like this one. This survey provides an important map at a critical time – and offers key advice on enhancing Republican vulnerability and positioning Democrats.

  • Three attacks on the Republicans stand out as particularly potent: Medicare, tax cuts for the wealthy and special interests while raising payroll taxes on the middle class and small businesses, and protecting congressional salaries in a government shutdown while voting to allow members of the military to have their salaries suspended.
  • The content of the Obama jobs plan is popular and should be highlighted. Support only increases when the bill is described.  The individual elements of the bill are extremely popular: ending Chinese currency manipulation to even the playing field for American manufacturers, creating an infrastructure bank to finance rebuilding and modernization projects, and reducing the payroll tax are among the most popular proposals; three-quarters of all voters support these proposals.
  • The plan and Democratic messages need to be situated in the need to build up the middle class after being under attack for decades.

[1] This memo is based on a unique survey of 1000 likely 2012 voters in 60 Republican battleground districts conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Democracy Corps September 14-19, 2011. Unless otherwise noted, margin of error=+/- 3.1% at 95% confidence.

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